Best Wood For Burning

Posted by:
Douglas Young
A stack of seasoned firewood

Want to have glowing heat or blazing flames? Understanding wood means you can be sure of having whatever kind of fire you want.

The best firewood is more than just tree type

Choosing the best wood for burning is not just about which tree the wood comes from. Is the wood seasoned or unseasoned? Is it hardwood or softwood? Which is best in which situation?

Seasoned firewood is always the best choice. It is drier, will burn at a higher temperature for a longer time and gives real value for money. Wet, green wood burns slowly and weakly and ends up costing you more money. This is especially true with most green hardwoods.

Hardwood is dense. It burns down into glowing coals giving out lots of radiant heat that lasts a lot longer than softwood. It is usually the best wood to use for heating but there are
exceptions.

Softwood is less dense and has more resin. It tends to burn fiercely and finishes quickly. Two loads of softwood will give out the same heat as one load of hardwood, so it does not give the same value for money. But seasoned softwood makes very good kindling and if you want a blazing fire it will give you one quickly.

Seasoned hardwood is the best firewood. Sometimes, especially towards the end of winter,seasoned hardwood is unavailable. Experiment with mixing softwood (seasoned or
semi-seasoned) and hardwood. The softwood will burn at a high temperature and will help the hardwood to burn hotter. Use caution though when burning semi-seasoned softwood as the high resin content will deposit more tar and soot inside your chimney, which in extreme cases can lead to chimney fires. The same is true even more for unseasoned softwood, and this should be avoided unless absolutely necessary.

The best firewood by tree type

Ease of use, amount of heat for the volume of wood and how long it will burn for are some of the factors for determining the best firewood to burn. Sparks given off, scent and rarity are other things to take into account. Whatever logs are being burnt, use a fire-screen and a non-flammable hearth rug.

Recommended hardwoods: The very best wood for burning.

Ash: One of the best woods for burning. It gives plenty of heat, flames well and even burns
reasonably when green.

Beech: Not quite as good as ash. It makes a good fire, but spits out embers. Better to use
mixed if possible.

Birch: A good heat, but a quick burner. Nice smell.

Hazel: Burns well but does spark a little.

Hawthorn: One of the best woods to burn, but not easy to find. It burns slow and hot.

Hornbeam: Similar to beech. Well worthwhile.

Oak: Must be well-seasoned. Very dense, so burns slow and hot and makes a lovely bed of glowing coals. Only real drawback is the amount of ash that it makes.

Sycamore: Flames nicely but heat is not as strong as oak or ash. Very common firewood and good to mix with others.

Maple: Burns well but not common.

Rowan: A good heat and reasonably slow burn. Also known as Mountain Ash.

Blackthorn: Very good. A nice hot and slow burn without much smoke.

Walnut: Burns hot with a lovely scent but rare.

Yew: Another hot slow burner with a lovely scent if seasoned for a long time. Rare. A toxic chemical exists in the wood, so do not use on an open fire.

Hardwoods to think about

Using wood for heating is also about valuing trees. Some of these types are good for burning, but please check where they come from. Orchards need protecting, not burning.

Apple: A good, slow burner with a beautiful scent and medium heat.

Cherry: Same as apple.

Chestnut: Not a lot of heat. It crackles and sparks a lot. Better to mix with other woods.

Holly: Well-seasoned it is reasonable but mainly small logs - medium heat and long lasting.

Laurel: Flames well, but does not come large usually. Do not use on an open fire as Laurel contains the toxic chemical cyanide.

Pear: Another fruit tree. Good to burn but not good to cut down.

Plum: Same as pear.

Hardwoods to avoid

Definitely not the best firewood.

Aspen: Burns hot and fast. Better to mix if you have to use this.

Elm: Smoky and difficult to get hot. Exception is dead elm that's been standing for years – this makes a great burning wood – hot and long lasting.

Lime: Difficult to get going, and low heat.

Poplar: Not a good burner, but if stored undercover immediately after felling it can give out some heat, but does not last long.

Willow: Same as poplar. Use only if stored straight away and seasoned. Sparks.

Alder: Very wet wood. It does not burn hot and finishes quickly.

Plane: Burns well and quickly but sparks a lot.

Elder: Avoid. Low heat, burns quickly and smokey.

Please note: in some situations Willow and poplar can make decent burning woods, but this is usually limited to those who have their own trees to process, so that they can cut, store and use at the correct times to get the most out of them. Many Biomass operations rely on these two woods because of their fast growing speed and their ability to be pollarded and coppiced.

Softwoods

Cedar: Must be well-seasoned, and then is gives out good heat. Beautiful smell too.

Douglas Fir: Avoid.

Larch: A good heat and nice smell. Burns quickly like all softwoods. Noisy. Larches in Britain are dying from a disease, so larch firewood is flooding the market. It is one of the best softwoods, but bear in mind that it is a quick burning firewood, so check the price.

Pine: Flames well but does spit and spark. Can have a lovely smell.

Spruce: Avoid. Fast burner with lots of sparks.